Monthly Archives: March 2012

Caps Crushing Fans’ Hopes in March Instead of April

I’ve been a Washington Capitals fan since 1986. As such, I’m ready, with the coming of every spring, to have my obssession rewarded with a soul-crushing exit from the playoffs. This after all is a team that in 21 postseasons has reached the Stanley Cup finals exactly once (it didn’t go well) but blown a two-game series lead seven times (five times to the Penguins, three times up three games to one). This year though (perhaps pushing back against Punxsutawney Phil’s call for more winter), the Caps seem determined make their fans an early gift of springtime disappointment. They might not make the playoffs at all. This with a roster that was supposed to be deeper and more talented than the one that finished first in the East two seasons in a row. (And won their first seven games this year.)

Yes, they were without puck-moving defenseman Mike Green for most of the season. And, they’ve been without top center Nick Backstrom since a little Canadian rat named Rene Bourque elbowed him in the head back in January. (It’s telling that Backstrom, the team leader in points when he was concussed, held that honor for several weeks hence.) But neither injury can fully account for this cavalcade of ineptitude. Caps hockey this season has featured, in different combinations and sometimes all at once, mediocre goaltending, porous defense, an inability to score, miserable special teams play, and severe mental fragility. Again, this is largely the same team that lead its conference twice in two years, was fourth in the league defensively last year and first in offense by miles the year before that. (If you follow hockey at all, you know there should be grapefruit-size asterisks next to those plaudits; but we’re not getting into that now.)

Still, for a few more games at least, these crappy Caps are on the playoff bubble. They’re two points from the eighth and last playoff spot and only four out of first in the horrific Southleast. So they could, theoretically wind up not only in the playoffs but as a No. 3 seed with home ice in the first round (spoils awarded to even the crappiest of division winners). Such are the fantasies that cloud the minds of fans.

To wit, the Caps began last week with a should-win contest against the lowly New York Islanders. A lackluster effort found the boys in red down 2-0 in the game’s waning minutes. Winning, and not dropping another two points to the Southeast-leading Panthers, required a spectacular, improbable effort. And that’s what the Caps gave, tying the game in the last 20 seconds and then finishing off the hapless Isles in OT with a scorching wrist shot from underachieving $9 mil/year captain Alex Ovechkin. How would the team respond? Would this minor miracle spark a dramatic return to form in the last month of the season, just in time for the playoffs? I allowed myself to consider that possibility for the three days until the next game, which the Caps lost 5-0 to New Jersey. Then they dropped two more, including Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the basement-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes. They’re back at it tonight, facing a surging Tampa Bay Lightning, who with a win, could relegate the Caps to fourth place in what is probably the NHL’s worst division. I’ll be watching, because I’m a masochist.

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ATLiens Love ATL, Hate Hawks

Josh Smith (left, who I hope realizes he's repping Anaheim in this photo) and Dwight Howard love the ATL, but not the hometown bball squad.

Remember that video of Charles Barkley talking up his gig as a Weight Watchers spokesperson? The one where he also slammed the Hawks as “a bunch of nice guys”? There was a little more to that conversation:

Barkley: If I were the Hawks, they’re the team to me, I’d try to do anything to get Dwight Howard. Say, “You could have anybody on our team.”

Reggie Miller: Who, them? He doesn’t want to come here.

Barkley: [Shrugs and makes a face like he’s eating something sour.]

There were some rumblings that the Hawks were interested in ponying up some big names for the NBA’s premier big, with the names Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford all thrown around. There were even some rumors that among the enticements to lure Superman were the opportunity to come home and play with his childhood buddy J-Smoove.

Seems like you’d sooner see Jerry Sandusky in a Penn State facility than Howard in a Hawks uni—and to make matters worse, Smith is dying to trade his in for that of another team. Word is, Smith wants to leave the nest. And that’s despite the fact that, at the moment, he’s the Hawks’ best player.

His gripes: When things go badly, he’s the most popular scapegoat. (Though, regardless of what happens, by salary means alone, the scapegoat should always be the lavishly overpaid Joe Johnson.) He’s been the most “consistent” player on the team this year—as much as a Hawks player can be consistent—and should have been an All-Star. (He was definitely more deserving than Joe Yawnson.) But, the Hawks didn’t appear to put any muscle behind promoting his candidacy. I figured the season was up in flames when Horford tore his titty. But, it was Smitty who shouldered most of the load in keeping the Hawks from crashing into the draft lottery.

Writes Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz: “Neither Smith nor Howard have a problem with Atlanta itself. It’s more about perceptions of the franchise and the ownership. As players move on in their career, winning titles becomes more important. Smith wants to play for a franchise more committed to winning a championship — or at least one that leaves the impression it knows what it takes to get there.”

The Hawks, thanks to years of hapless ownership (and, as much as I hate to admit it, ‘Nique’s proto-‘Mello ballhoggery), have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. And with Johnson’s albatross of a contract and a current ownership team that regards getting to the second round of the playoffs as highly as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger regards having to play-in to the Champions League, things aren’t going to change anytime soon.

So, Josh, take flight. Leave home. This is not the place to get your ring.